studies in contrast

I used to get so tan I looked dirty. When I was a little girl, I ran around outside for hours, and when I was tired of running around, I read my books on the porch until it got dark. When I would take a bath at night, I would marvel at the contrast of my dark leg against the white porcelain of the tub. This is the first experience of vanity I can remember. The rest of the year I was a middling non-pale white girl, but come summer, with enough exposure, I could turn as dark as a walnut skin. When I got older, we sprayed Sun-In on our hair and baked in the sun, flipping from back to front on schedule and listening to B94. But by then I wasn’t outside as much; I’d learned what humidity did to my hair, and vanity took over once again.

Now I’m older. Paranoid about melanoma and leathery skin. Today I have freckles I never had before, and they bother me. They don’t look cute on someone my age the way they do on an eight-year-old with skinned knees. So I wear sunscreen on my face, and I don’t sit for hours in the sun.

But yesterday I waited in it for long stretches of time in between buses, while debating where to go next, while listening to people go about the business of the day in English, French, and a few other languages I was helpless to identify. I didn’t seek out the shade like I should have. Instead I closed my eyes and let the sun warm me, the way it did when I lay across the six metal bars of the jungle gym in my backyard in 1982. I probably got a little over an hour of full sun and came home high on Vitamin D.

It was in the high seventies yesterday, but still breezy. I knew what I was doing, but my animal mind disregarded my human brain. Today I have tan lines from my watch and the straps of my sandals, and I shouldn’t look at them as anything other than sun damage. But like anything that reminds me of former versions of myself, they make me smile. And smiles, you know, look really white against a tan.

Forgot to add a video from one of the spoken-word performers. This is Emily Kwissa, and this piece is what she read on Saturday.